I heard a story on the radio the other day about a psychological study done by Yale University. The study showed that people who are holding something warm in their hands are more likely to perceive other people as “warm,” and therefore more likely to behave in a friendly, generous way. Here’s a link if you want to read the whole story.
Of course, I immediately thought of tea. In the tearoom, when a guest is about to drink a bowl of tea, they rest the bowl on their left hand and wrap their right hand around the side for support, so the bowl is less likely to fall.
If the guests are in the proper frame of mind—that is, if they’ve been watching the host prepare the tea, and allowed their mind to slip into the harmony of the movements—then they’re already in a heightened state of awareness. It’s hard to describe, but the tea tastes different when it’s drunk as part of a tea ceremony. You taste more of the nuances, whether the tea is fresh and grassy or more earthy and complex; whether it was whipped into a thick foam or whether it’s thinner and more woody. You feel the shape of the bowl in your hand, whether the shoulder at the bottom is round or square, whether the texture is rough or smooth, whether the clay around the rim is thick or thin.
Of course, that’s the ideal. If you study tea ceremony with a teacher, then the vast majority of the time you’re drinking tea in a classroom setting. Everybody has their good days and their bad days, the times when they’re paying attention and the times when they’re just going through the motions. That affects the taste of the tea, too. I know if it’s been a while since I’ve had matcha, I approach my first bowl with much more attention (and gratitude!) than my third or fourth bowl of the day.
But I think there really is something visceral about sitting with your hands wrapped around a warm bowl of tea, something that’s comforting even when it’s 90 degrees outside and the room isn’t air conditioned. I never thought about it before, but I think that the warmth of the liquid does add to the experience of drinking tea. Everything combines to give us a feeling of fellowship as we drink the tea together, and isn’t that the goal?
And since I was drinking a nice cup of sencha as I wrote this, I’ll be thinking of you all warmly until next time…